TALLAHASSEE -- When a politically connected company was in danger of losing a $9.4 million no-bid contract with the state, Senate President Mike Haridopolos came to the rescue of the outfit — a firm that employs his good friend and political benefactor as a lobbyist.
Haridopolos staved off the threat to the deal with the Department of Juvenile Justice and quietly steered $6 million in additional dollars to the company, despite the vigorous objections of agency leaders and top Republican senators.
The move allowed Evidence Based Associates, a Washington-based probation program, the exclusive contract to handle the state effort to divert at-risk youth from costly prison beds into community programs. The company kept the business despite recent reports that it had failed to comply with key terms of the agreement —– and to the chagrin of a long list of providers who wanted to compete for the work.
The company’s lobbyist, Frank Tsamoutales, is a Brevard County Republican who has been a financial backer of Haridopolos since the Brevard County legislator was first elected to office in 2000. He went to work for EBA in April 2011, earning between $20,000 and $29,000 in the first year, the same year Haridopolos became Senate president.
The investment paid off.
When a legislative conference committee decided it was time to lower the cost of the project, lawmakers wrote language into the budget ordering DJJ to rebid the contract after eight years with EBA. That’s when Tsamoutales spoke to Haridopolos.
The final budget signed by Haridopolos and House Speaker Dean Cannon deleted the requirement that the contract be put to bid.
Haridopolos referred questions about the matter to his spokeswoman, Lyndsey Cruley, who said a health services exemption allows DJJ to forgo competitive bidding of the contract, and that EBA earned the work with a “proven track record of positive results.”
Cruley said no one in the Senate exercised improper influence over the contract dollars.
“The Senate in no way steered that contract toward EBA,” Cruley said. It was juvenile justice administrators, she added, who chose not to exercise their authority to seek competitive bids.
But lawmakers who opposed the contract consider it a gift from one of the state’s most powerful legislators to one of his closest friends.
“He is as close to President Mike Haridopolos as any lobbyist could be,” said Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, referring to Tsamoutales. Fasano’s outspoken opposition to Hardiopolos’ agenda cost him his chairmanship of the powerful Senate Criminal Justice Appropriations Committee, which controls the budgets of several agencies. He now believes his opposition to Tsamoutales’ no-bid contract contributed to the Senate president’s animosity toward him.
Haridopolos and Tsamoutales have a history of helping each other out. One of Tsamoutales’ clients and closest friends last year paid Haridopolos $5,000 a month — $60,000 a year — to be a consultant. Haridopolos earmarked $20 million in state money for a biomedical development sought by another Tsamoutales client.
Tsamoutales made no apologies for appealing to his longtime friend to stop what his fellow lawmakers had done. “That was our job,’’ he said.